GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) The final result showed UConn winning its 11th straight NCAA Tournament game by at least 13 points.

The reality: The Huskies were tested unlike any other time during their run toward a possible second straight national title.

UConn kept its composure and its bid to repeat as national champion intact, getting 21 points from freshman Stephon Castle while clamping down defensively in the second half of an 86-72 win over Alabama in the Final Four on Saturday night.

“Our identity is to be pretty relentless,” UConn coach Dan Hurley said. “We might not break you for 18 minutes, 25 minutes, but at some point if what we're doing at both ends and on the backboard is at a high level, it just becomes hard for the other team to sustain it.”

The top-seeded Huskies (36-3) put on a March Madness show before arriving in the desert, a stretch that included a 30-0 run in a decimation of Illinois in the Elite Eight.

This was more of a slow burn.

Alabama (25-12) made the most of its first Final Four, hitting a flurry of 3-pointers to go toe to toe with a team that trailed for 28 total seconds during its first four NCAA Tournament games.

Crafty point guard Mark Sears did his best to keep Alabama in it, scoring 24 points. Grant Nelson had another big game in March Madness, finishing with 19 points, 15 rebounds and one highlight-reel dunk over UConn big man Donovan Clingan.

UConn, as it usually does under Hurley, wore the Tide into submission.

Clingan started asserting himself in the post offensively, finishing with 18 points and four blocked shots. Castle and Alex Karaban (14 points) hit big shots as the Huskies stretched the lead.

And one of the nation's best defenses flexed at just right time, holding the Tide without a field goal for a game-turning five-minute stretch that put UConn on the cusp of becoming the first repeat champion since Florida in 2006-07.

“They're close to being bulletproof,” Alabama coach Nate Oats said.

Next up for the Huskies is what should be a heavyweight bout in Monday's national championship game against Purdue. It will not be for the meek, with the 7-foot-2, 280-pound Clingan facing the rare person on Earth who's bigger than him in 7-foot-4, 300-pound Zach Edey.

“A battle of the giants. I think it’s just great for college basketball. Us and Purdue have clearly been the two best teams in the country the last two years,” Hurley said. “I think it’s just great for college basketball to get the two big dogs playing on Monday.”

The Huskies spent the tournament’s first two weeks terrorizing opponents to the tune of a 27.8-point average margin of victory.

Alabama stuck a stick in the spokes of the juggernaut by pulling Clingan away from the basket and burying 3-pointers.

Clingan had two early blocks and appeared to be on his to duplicating his Elite Eight performance, when Illinois went 0 for 19 on shots he contested.

Once the Crimson Tide started forcing Clingan into high pick-and-rolls, lanes to the basket starting opening up - as did the 3-point line.

Alabama thrived from 3 all season, taking down Clemson in the Elite Eight by making 16 shots from deep. The Tide kept it rolling against UConn, making 8 of 11 in the first half while Sears repeatedly got to the rim, putting the Huskies seemingly right where they wanted them.


The Huskies kept their composure amid the Alabama 3-point barrage, calmly ran their offense and led 44-40 at halftime.

“We just had to stay together, tighten up on the defensive end,” Karaban said.

UConn kept rolling in the second half and Nelson kept the Tide within reach. His thunderous dunk over Clingan had Oats screaming and squatting like he was doing the Haka.

Oats’ friend Hurley had the last laugh - or scream.

Hurley has built UConn in arguably the best two-way team of a generation, and the Huskies showed off both sides in their closing flourish.

UConn shut down Alabama’s open looks from the 3-point arc and started getting the ball into Clingan, who overpowered the Tide when he got near the rim.

“They’re a really great team,” Sears said. “We turned the ball over and they made us pay for it.”

The Huskies gradually stretched the lead, pushed the Tide back every time they made a run and put themselves in position to make history.


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